Astros Hold On To Nip Arizona
Houston's Lead Pushes To 4-1/2

Reddick (r): 15th homer
(c) Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle
A pitchers duel Sunday between two former Cy Young winners became a 5-1 Houston lead before Arizona staged a furious comeback in the ninth inning that fell just short as the Astros held on for a 5-4 victory. Combined with Oakland's second straight loss to Tampa Bay, the win widens Houston's lead in the A.L. West to 4-1/2 games with 13 games to go.

The "magic number" to make the playoffs is three. The "magic number" to win the division is nine. The stat is figured on the combined number of wins and opponent's losses needed to clinch a title.

Justin Verlander tossed seven strong innings with 11 strikeouts. He gave up just three hits and one run, that run coming on a solo homer from David Peralta in the sixth.

After Ryan Pressly worked the eighth, Collin McHugh entered with a four-run lead in the ninth. Peralta drew a one-out walk then Paul Goldschmidt singled him over to third. Roberto Osuna took over from McHugh and allowed a sacrifice fly to Eduardo Escobar for the second run (as well as the second out) then Daniel Descalso smashed a drive into the second deck of the right field stands to pull the Snakes with one.

Finally, Osuna bore down and blew a 2-2 pitch past Ketel Marte to wrap up his 18th save of the year.

Zack Greinke was also effective as Arizona's starter. George Springer and Jose Altuve opened the first inning with consecutive singles and Alex Bregman's double play grounder gave Verlander a 1-0 lead he held until the sixth. Greinke would allow eight hits in 6-1/3rd innings but the seventh inning would be his undoing.

Tyler White spanked a ground rule double down the right field line to plate Springer in the sixth to reclaim a one-run lead. Josh Reddick homered for the second consecutive game and Altuve later singled home Tony Kemp to make it a 4-1 advantage. Martin Maldonado plated Carlos Correa in the eighth for an insurance run that most of the 37,889 in attendance did not expect the Astros to need.

However, Arizona's comeback made that run necessary as it won the three-game series between the two clubs. Arizona fell 4-1/2 games behind the Dodgers in the N.L. West chase.

The 82-66 Seattle Mariners are next on the schedule. Houston hosts them for a three-game set starting Monday night. Lefties Wade LeBlanc (8-4) and Framber Valdez (3-1) will be the starting pitchers in the 7:10 pm Central opener. Oakland will be hosting Anaheim two hours later for you insomniacs.

It was also announced that the Astros are ending their four-year relationship with Fresno as the Triple-A affiliate in the Pacific Coast League. While the front office was non-commital, most everyone assumes that the Astros will restore their AAA affiliation with the Round Rock Express, whose ownership group involves sons of Astros legend Nolan Ryan. Ryan had taken the Express to the Texas Rangers in 2011 when he became part of their ownership group. After the Rangers bought out Ryan, he joined the Astros as a special consultant. Ryan's son Reid is currently the Astros' President of Business Operations.

After Fresno was eliminated from the AAA playoffs, the Astros recalled outfielder Kyle Tucker who will give the Astros 34 players on the major league squad until the end of the month.

- Bob Hulsey